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Continuation from Part 1:

Trends/future of robot technology and end use; IoT, AI?

Tany Anandan’s article in Robotics Online - ‘The Business of Automation, Betting on Robots’ outlines many of the drivers of robotics including production, rise of China and IoT and the Smart Factory:

Depending on who you ask, the “big news” in automation and robotics varies from AI and the Internet of Things, to human-robot collaboration, and even commercial drones. But our contributors agree on one area in particular. All eyes are on China.

International Federation of Robotics (IFR). For the third year in a row, robots sales are at an all-time high. By 2018, the IFR estimates that 2.3 million industrial robots will be in operation across the globe.

  • Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory
    Many recent advancements in automation and robotics have an AI component. Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is no longer an abstract theory. Advanced sensors, sophisticated software, and autonomous actuators are raising the factory’s intelligence. The smart factory of the future is already here.

  • IoRT -Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT)
    Last fall, ABI Research’s Dan Kara introduced a new concept, the Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT). He distinguishes it from IoT, which largely focuses on using connected devices with simple, passive sensors to monitor and optimize systems. IoRT, on the other hand, uses devices to fuse sensor data from a variety of sources, uses “intelligence” to determine a best course of action, and then acts to control or manipulate objects in the physical world, while in some cases, moving through that world.“We’re talking about robotic devices that actuate dynamically, that have some degree of movement in the physical world and with some degree of autonomy,” explains Kara. “That combination of sensing, communication, processing, plus actuation takes IoT to a completely different level. It can improve robotic manipulation and grasping, navigation and localization, and path planning.

  • Collaborative Robotics and SMEs
    Dramatic growth will come from the 90 percent of the market for robotics that isn’t yet automated. These are the small and midsized enterprises across the globe, the largest sector of the manufacturing base.

  • Joe Gemma, President & CEO of KUKA Robotics Corporation in Shelby Township, Michigan, is IFR’s newly elected President. He says demands for higher productivity, tighter tolerances, mass customization, miniaturization, and shorter product life cycles are driving double-digit growth for robotics worldwide. “With traditional robots, those robots had to do either all or nothing,” explains Gemma. “They did all the work because you couldn’t have a human in the space. Or they did nothing because it had to be done by a human. That’s one of the big differences between collaborative robots today. It’s allowing for part of the process to be done by a robot and part of the process can be done by a human. Now the robot can be right alongside the person and do some final assembly and then the person does the inspection.

  • In a related article ‘The Realm of Collaborative Robots’ Tanya goes on to describe one of the most interesting areas of collaborative robots working alongside humans - The latest international ISO 10218:2011 and U.S.-adopted ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 safety standards have been globally harmonized and identify four types of human-robot collaborative operation:

    • Safety-rated monitored stop

    • Hand guiding

    • Speed and separation monitoring

    • Power and force limiting


  • Etalex manufactures metal shelving and racking systems and they use Robotic Production Assistant
    The UR (Universal Robot) portable arm goes where robots didn’t dare to go just a few years ago, to the other side of a heavily roboticized factory floor, where mostly manual operations rule. Here, human workers are getting a boost from their robotic production assistants. This video shows a UR10 robot on the job at a commercial shelving manufacturer in Montreal, Canada. The cobot performs pick-and-place operations unloading a press brake machine used to bend steel parts.


In conclusion, it is safe to say that robots are being used more and more in manufacturing and applications are getting more sophisticated as technology advances. Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will further spur development of robots that will work alongside humans.  Large and small companies in the mill products segments will embrace these changes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

On a more positive note, technology such as AI and Big Data has increased the need for higher skilled jobs in the areas of data science or other positions that now can use data to improve the growth or strategy of a company.

I would be interested to hear more commentary or stories about your experiences with robots in your industry.